Pacific Crest Trail Adventure Part IV Section K (Glacier Peak Area to Stevens Pass)
We rose from our slope side slumber and got things started again at 10:52PM. It is an odd feeling to go to sleep after a long day on the trail, only to begin again later the same day. The trail was narrow and there was a steep drop off that would have been worrisome if I was actually thinking clearly enough to worry about anything. The ground was extremely rocky and dense vegetation draped over the path, making footing a difficult proposition. I found myself swaying back and forth slightly as I clumsily descended, just hoping I didn’t topple towards the steep side of the slope.
I think we switched back on the mountainside about 28 times in the first 3.5 miles down to Milk Creek. We passed over a raging waterfall, which laid to rest the mystery of the sound of roaring water that echoed through the valley on our descent. As is tradition, what goes down, must go back up and we began carving our way back up to Mica Lake area. I remember having some engaging conversation about trail running through this fairly overgrown section. The trail was narrow with encroaching vegetation, but occasionally; the trail entered a forested area that provided respite from the dense understory.
Around mile 6.4 we stopped in a sprawling stream to refill our bottles. I distinctly remember sitting on a rock with water flowing around me, eating a brownie cliff bar and falling asleep for a moment while I was chewing. My body was not cooperating with the mission. At mile 8 the forested trail opened up to an alpine meadow and there were several tents strewn about with numerous footpaths that led us to become confused. We deviated slightly from the PCT, but quickly retraced our steps and made our way back onto the route. The moon provided enough light in the alpine that we could almost turn the headlamps off, but we kept the ground illuminated to avoid tripping.
It was a gorgeous evening/morning in the alpine; the grassy meadows gave way to rocky talus fields as we undulated between high points and creeks. We topped out at Fire Creek Pass and this was also the first time on our voyage that we came across snow. It was quite cold through this stretch and the howling wind was biting through my cheap raincoat, but I had to stop to grab a few handfuls of snow. I love crushed ice, and there is no better frozen treat, than the snow from an alpine couloir.
Around mile 10, we began a cruising descent trough the subalpine transition zone. My anterior tibialis and achillies tendons were screaming and while I tried to change my gait to compensate. The pain definitely slowed my pace. John was gliding down the hill, but I was struggling on the steep slope and I was fighting to keep my eyes open. We passed over Fire Creek and shortly there after I tripped into the bushes and immediately fell asleep for about 10 minutes. This actually worked out well, I would become too tired to run, pass out, and then become too cold to sleep, so I would wake up and start running to warm up. After crossing Pumice Creek my energy levels continued to wane, so we decided it might be a good plan to take a half hour nap. We expected the sun in a half hour, so this would allow us to get a little rest and find renewed energy with the rising sun.
I woke up with a veracious appetite for running and a newfound optimism that inspired me to increase the pace. The story of miles 15.5 to 21.3 was creek crossings. We started with Glacier Creek, then Kennedy Creek, then Silkum Creek, then Chetwot Creek and then finally Baekos Creek. Each of these crossings bore an uncanny resemblance to the crossing before it. The trail paralleled the creek for few hundred meters, and then a dilapidated wooden bridge would appear. The bridges stood out from the gray rocky basins, which were peppered with green scraggly willows. After finally getting to the other side, five creeks later, we found ourselves paralleling the White Chuck River.
The trail leading up to and tracing along the White Chuck River was muddy and overgrown, making it difficult to hold a consistent pace. At mile 22 however, an impressive wooden bridge led us across the river, complete with a thundering waterfall view. The following miles were some of my favorite; we were ascending next to the river through a narrow corridor while an eerie fog hung in the air. The forest was so lush and green, the cascading river produced such a melodious sound, and my mind was transfixed on the Pacific Crest Trail. I imagine that it will be difficult to ever again produce such a feeling of presence.
The peaceful feeling was short-lived and I snapped back to reality and the gravity of the situation. John and I began talking about distance, pace, and projections. This led to motivating conversation about the Moab 240 and other ultra endurance events. As we ascended out of the river valley and into a more open alpine expanse, our confidence began to soar. We ran some numbers and surmised that we had just a little over 50 kilometers to go to Stevens Pass. This was good because after about 36 hours into section K we were running low on calories.
The blue skies turned cloudy as we approached Red Pass and before passing a group of hikers, we inquired about the distance to Stevens Pass and they replied: 39 miles. My heart sunk, we had miscalculated by about 8 miles, which at our pace could be several hours. We did not let it detract from our enjoyment of Red Pass. The panoramic views were stunning and as we passed onto the backside of the ridge we stopped to eat some blueberries. I wanted to take advantage of the calories the trail was providing in order to more effectively ration my food and nothing beats the flavor of low-growing alpine variety.
At mile 27.3 everything changed. John decided to run ahead at a faster pace with the intention of reaching Stevens Pass sooner in order to resupply food quicker. This deviated from our plan to stick together, but we assumed we would see each other again, and he planned to wait at Stevens Pass if he arrived before me. In my altered mental state this seemed reasonable and we parted ways. I took the pace nice and easy, eating blueberries along the way to supplement the food I was carrying. The views were stunning and bear-sized marmots darted through the wild flowers. They kept a close watch on me, whistling their alert when I came near, sending all their friends scurrying for cover into their burrows.
The feeling of isolation from other members of my species in such an expansive and wild place was intoxicating to me. Being the only child in my family and neighborhood necessitated that I become comfortable exploring on my own and deriving entertainment from the nuances of my environment. Constructs of boredom and loneliness do not exist within my mind. Even in the dullest of places, I appreciate the minutiae that make them special. However, in the middle of the vast wilderness and the Pacific Crest Trail guiding my way, there was never a dull moment.
Shortly following Indian Pass at mile 32.2, my mind started to partition the landscape in a way that is difficult to explain. It is as if my subconscious mind populated the remaining miles and explained the layout of the remaining trail to my conscious mind. I knew that I had about 30 miles of trail ahead of me, trail that I had never run on before, but I had a strange feeling that I had been there before and knew what was ahead.
So as I descended out of the Red/White/Indian Pass area, the views became less dramatic and the trail took on a different feeling. I remained on a slope that afforded unobstructed views towards what I believed to be Stevens Pass area, which seemed to assure me that I was fairly close. I took a lengthy break at Candy Creek (mile 37.5), ate some tuna packs, refilled water, changed my socks, and insoles. It was difficult to pop back up, but I knew I was burning daylight. Shortly after I stopped, I saw another small pocket of snow (only the second of the run). I enjoyed a few handfuls, which really helped to cool the body temperature, because the sun was in full brilliance and I was on an exposed ridge.
Somewhere around Candy Pass (mile 40), I got cell service and made several calls. I spoke to Apryle, Brit, and my mom and dad. Apryle was very concerned for my safety since I was alone without a fully functioning beacon and at the time I dismissed her concerns, but in hindsight she was fully warranted in her concern and I was not in sound enough mind to realize. I learned that Apryle had contacted Abram, who helped facilitate Adam Braddock and Nick Pembroke to come out to bring us food and assist with pacing. So I called Adam and we planned a meeting place near Smithbrook TH. I was able to hold onto service long enough to finish coordinating and then I was out of cell range again.
I descended a forested hillside down to Pass Creek, where I relaxed in the shade for a few minutes and filled my hydration bladder with cool stream water. I was feeling uplifted because I knew that I would reach Adam at Smithbrook trailhead in about 20 miles and then Apryle at Stevens Pass in 27 miles. In my mind, I was still a runner and 27 miles on difficult trail should only take about 4.5 hours. As I ascended out of the Pass Creek valley, I began to populate the topography and direction of the remaining miles in my mind, even though I had very little concept of what the remaining miles would entail.
I kept thinking that I was just minutes from the ski resort and seeing visions of manmade structures in the distance. Even though the PCT halfmile app was giving very accurate mileage information that the GPS watch corroborated, I was sure I had much less distance and time remaining. Not only did I think I had less distance to cover, I also thought that I was moving much faster than I actually was. I continued to slowly trot along, picking blueberries from nearly every bush I passed. Every once and a while I would have a moment of clarity where I realized that I still had 8 to 10 hours of running ahead of me and that I would not finish before dark. The thought that I would be too far behind schedule to begin section J with John was an unbearable thought, so I completely put it out of my mind.
I continued to live in my fantasy world where I would be meeting Adam soon and we would run it in together with John and Nick. I reached Saddle Gap at mile 43.3 and the trail took an unexpected turn into some rocky terrain that I did not anticipate. This unexpected scenery along with the sun sinking into the west triggered a brief moment of clarity and I picked up the pace all the way to Pear Lake. At Pear Lake I mistakenly took a wrong turn, but quickly recovered. I kept up the same effort as I ascended through a shrubby hillside towards Wenatchee Pass. I was running out of fear because I had run out of food and I might not reach Adam before dark.
As I ran over Wenatchee Pass (mile 50) and continued upward, my spirits soared because Adam appeared on the horizon around mile 51.8! He was carrying a baguette with butter, a tuna sandwich, orange soda, and spring energy gels. I must have put away 2000 calories in a matter of minutes while we motored up the hill. He said that John and Nick were not too far ahead and that we were only about 13 miles from Stevens Pass.
Since I was suddenly running with another person after so many solo hours after Adam seemingly appeared out of know where, my mind started to play tricks on me. I wasn’t sure if he came in from another trail and for some reason my mind was telling me that we had left the PCT at some point, which was not the case. Shortly after meeting up, we summited Grizzly Peak (the only peak of the adventure), which I learned only after reviewing the map while writing this post. We took some time to soak in the sights as the sun began to set. Unfortunately, the sun was not the only thing that was disappearing; my motivation and pace also started to flitter out.
My feet and ankles were so irritated that each step felt like someone was pushing needles into my flesh. In addition to this, my headlamp was going dim and, and my eyelids were growing heavy. Adam tried his best to motivate me to keep the pace up, but my run had become a slow walk to him. I asked him how much further we had to Stevens Pass every few minutes, and because I was only traveling at about 2 miles per hour, poor Adam had very little new distance metrics to report.
I had convinced myself that the last ten miles of the PCT to Stevens Pass were actually on a flat well groomed rail trail and I expressed my displeasure for the trail surface frequently. The trail kept undulating and passing through streambeds and the ground came alive with frogs and toads hopping in every direction. Normally I would be trying to capture the amphibians on film, but I lost the capability to operate electronics in my delirium. Eventually I was convinced that Adam was taking me in circles and that we were not even on the PCT anymore. I did not want to be rude, so I requested that once we get to Smithbrook junction, he should head home and get some rest and let Apryle take on pacing duties.
Not far from the junction with the PCT and Smithbrook trail I wanted to just stop and rest, but Adam encouraged me to at least make it to the junction. When we reached the junction, I took off my shoes, zipped up in Apryle’s down sleeping bag and immediately passed out. The next thing I remember, Apryle and Adam were standing over me and telling me that we needed to walk down the trail to Adam’s car. Apryle tells me that she came up to the sleeping bag and kissed me and I asked, “who are you?” At that point, there was little argument as to whether or not I would be continuing on to Stevens Pass and section J. I slowly walked down switchbacking Smithbrook trail to the trailhead, even taking a brief piggyback ride from Adam due to the foot pain.
I ended my PCT journey too delirious to even really realize where I was let alone to realize that I had failed miserably in my attempt to cover 530 miles in 8 days. I will conclude this post with my strava description: Special thank you to one of the kindest most dedicated person I know Adam Braddock for bringing me food on the trail and realizing I was too delirious to continue forward. Thanks to Nick Pembroke for assisting John into Stevens! Thanks for staying up all night to make sure I was safe. Thanks so much to my wife Apryle for the endless support… Without her I could never execute all of my stupid life pursuits. Thanks Abram Elwell for facilitating help on the journey, particularly this evening and creating such a supportive community. Thanks to Brit, Jace, and Jax Maxwell for all the aid and treating me like family. Thanks Ryan Thrower and Nick Danileson for filming and support. John, thank you for sharing in this journey. Thanks everyone else for your support from afar.
Time of Adventure: August 30th at 5:30AM to September 2nd at 10:06PM (88 hours 36 minutes)
Time Total on trail: August 30th at 1:47PM to September 2nd at 10:06PM (80 hours 19 minutes)
Time Slept: 5 hours in several time periods on trail (August 31st evening and September 1st evening being the official stops)
Section Miles: 59.74
Total Miles for FKT: 189.16
Total Miles: 220.68
Section Time: 23:14:43
Total Time for FKT: 71:51:00
Total Time: 80:19:00
Section Elevation: 12,963 feet
Total Elevation for FKT: 35,860 feet
Total Elevation: 40,867 feet
|Landmark||Distance from Glacier Camp (mi)||Elevation (ft)|
|Fire Creek Pass||9.8||6,270|
|Lake Sally Ann||37||5,505|
|Rapid River Crossing||57.3||4,181|
|Smithbrook Trail Junction||59.74||4,658|